Chicago Blackhawks

Gray, Brooks knock out Morgan Park

Gray, Brooks knock out Morgan Park

Sunday, March 13, 2011
12:52 a.m.

By Tim Cronin
Yourseason.com

Brooks' Keith Gray wasn't supposed to play on Friday night. A hyperextended left knee was supposed to keep him out of the Class 3A sectional final against Morgan Park.

Then the phone of Brooks coach Bobby Locke rang. It was Gray's father with good news.

"He wants to play," Locke was told. "It's his decision."

It was a bold one, backed up with similar play on the court, play that helped Brooks to a 60-46 victory over Morgan Park before about 1,700 fans at Rich South. Gray scored 10 points, pulled down 12 rebounds and blocked three shots, an emotional leader.

"I've been in pain the whole month," Gray said. "I said (tonight) it really didn't hurt, so he said, 'Go ahead and play.' "

The pain melted away during the game, during which Brooks (24-3) built an 11-point lead, only to see the Mustangs, led by Wayne Blackshear's 14 points, claw their way back. The lead had been trimmed to 41-37 on Blackshear's drive to the basket with 1:30 left in the third. Only then, after a 9-2 outburst, did Locke call time.

"The reason I went so long is because I have so many seniors," Locke said. "I don't have to get on them as much as they get on each other."

The result of the tempest in the huddle was an 11-point run that put the Public League champions ahead to stay, though the Mustangs (20-7), despite being rebounded 42-17, pulled within six points with 1:15 left, causing a few Eagles fans to worry.

There were no worries for Brooks at the end.

"With the exception of Wayne, they don't have rebounders," Locke said. "You make him over out to the perimeter and make him shoot jump shots, and everybody (on Brooks) goes to the boards. That's what we did. Our main priority was to get the first rebound."

Priority accomplished.

"Everybody had us as the underdogs," Gray said. "We came and showed 'em we were the winning team tonight."

Brother Kevin Gray added 13 points to go with 10 rebounds for Brooks, which was led by George Marshall's 18 points.

Now there's another decision for Gray, and Locke, to ponder.

"He probably won't play on Tuesday," Locke said, thinking ahead to Tuesday's supersectional against Lindblom.

Of course, that's what Locke thought going into Friday's game.

For Morgan Park, the loss closes Blackshear's high school career prematurely. Double-teamed much of the game, he still paced the Mustangs.

"I wish I had him with me the rest of my career," Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said.

"Coming this close, it hurts," Blackshear said. "They were probably more aggressive on the boards than us."

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

It’s preseason: you don’t need a lot of build-up. Let’s just delve right in, shall we?

1. Lots of shots, but…

The same Joonas Korpisalo that the Blackhawks’ youngsters scored five goals against on Tuesday was on top of his game on Saturday. The Blackhawks peppered him with 54 shots but only two got through, and the second was a 6-on-4 power-play goal in the final two minutes.

“I thought we could have gotten a little more traffic in front of him," Nick Schmaltz said. "I thought we were playing along the outside. I mean we had some great looks. He made some big saves. Some nights you get the bounces and some nights you don’t.”

2. Bérubé’s Blackhawks debut.

Jean-François Bérubé had a tough sequence early in the second period, when he gave up two goals in a 28-second span. This was against a Columbus team that didn’t send many of their top players. He also didn’t see a ton of action in this one; the Blue Jackets fired just 21 shots his way.

3. Growing pains.

Alex DeBrincat had his up and down moments on Saturday night. His turnover led to Columbus’ first goal, he took a slashing penalty and he fought the puck quite a bit. You still saw glimpses of that skill, though, especially with his quick release. Hey, he’s a 19-year-old guy getting his first taste of the NHL. Nights like this are going to happen.

“We all make mistakes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You gotta be safe in certain areas and you learn from that.”

4. Slash-o-meter.

Four more were called on Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if that number starts dwindling sooner rather than later, though, because the edict has apparently changed already. Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported earlier on Saturday that the league told officials to ease up on slashing and faceoff violations. But we all figure that’s going to happen once the regular season begins anyway, right?

5. Notre Dame bound.

The destination is familiar but the Blackhawks threw it into their second week of camp this season. It’ll be bonding time for the Blackhawks, who will send a smaller group for several practices there this week. Quenneville figures it’ll be a productive time. “We’ll get some bonding in, play golf together, have a nice outing, couple of road games and a nice campus.”

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

nick_schmaltz.jpg
USA TODAY

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

Nick Schmaltz seemed to be everywhere the puck was on Saturday night. Great pursuit of the puck, great passes to Patrick Kane or Alex DeBrincat and an all-around confidence that’s becoming more apparent by the game.

So has coach Joel Quenneville seen what he’s needed to from Schmaltz at second-line center?

“And more.”

It’s been a pretty impressive showing for Schmaltz this month. The 21-year-old has played in all three of the Blackhawks’ preseason games and keeps getting better in each one. The uncertainty Schmaltz understandably showed as a rookie is gone; the NHL game no longer feels uncomfortable.

“I feel like the game’s slowing down for me, just seeing plays,” Schmaltz said. “I know what I’m doing with the puck before I get it. It feels good and just trying to get better every day.”

Schmaltz and his fellow second liners didn’t connect for goals in the Blackhawks 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The three combined for 12 of the Blackhawks’ 54 shots on goal – Kane and DeBrincat each had five – and the chemistry continues to build between the three.

Jonathan Toews talked on Saturday morning of how much more relaxed Schmaltz looks with the puck now, and that was evident again later that night.

“He’s really starting to get comfortable physically at this level,” Toews said. “He thinks the game so well, puts himself in good spots, much like Kaner where he can skate with the puck and use his speed. He has his head up so he backs guys off. Those two were making great plays tonight and Brinksy was fitting in well. They couldn’t buy a goal but Schmaltzy’s getting better and better, and you’re’ seeing that calm poise that he has really come out the more he gets comfortable.”

Schmaltz was likely getting a second-line audition in some capacity this fall; the original thought was at left wing in the wake of Artemi Panarin’s trade. But Schmaltz has always felt at his best at center. He’s showing that. And more.

“It’s always fun to play no matter if it’s preseason or regular season," he said. "I’m always happy to play, especially when you’re playing with great players. I feel like I’m more comfortable in the middle, able to use my speed a little bit more, create more offense that way.

"I think it’s going well. Wherever I end up, I’ll be happy.”